Published by Street Press Australia, May 16 2012.
If the hour was small enough and the eyes a little blurry, Max Kohane could pass himself off as The Gaslamp Killer. The Melbourne beat-maker and the famed Los Angeles party man share a partiality to facial hair and obscure skate-designer T-shirts that have a hint of the lived-in look about them. But where The Gaslamp Killer’s William Bensussen appears wild-eyed in his promo photos, as if he’s just smoked the whole of a blunt no one knew the contents of, photos of Kohane pitch him as the at-ease, or even shy, everyman. It helps that the pics of Kohane are happy-snaps that were, it’s easy to imagine, never intended for public release: Kohane on a couch in a living room, or outside, slouched against a foreign backdrop, perhaps while on tour with one of the bands he drums for, Agents Of Abhorrence and Pivixki.
The comparison is justified: as Max Crumbs, Kohane has released a new album, Maidenhair (Sensory Projects), which draws its heavy rhythm from the so-called “LA beat scene” that gave us The Gaslamp Killer and his cohort and champion Flying Lotus. Apropos Bensussen’s public image, those producers came up as the new voices of the LA streets; there was something urban and sinister and wild to their sounds. Kohane, on the other hand, starts off from the opposing corner. Maidenhair’s cover is adorned by a rocky mountain collage and its first track is the breezy Sunbath, which takes in the light and washy productions of the more recent ‘post-glitch’ set.
But that earthy, unpretentious setting is indeed a starting point. Over 15 tracks (five of which hit the three-minute mark) Maidenhair reveals itself as an album of layers and levels. Beats with a translucent quality slyly become synthetic, crazed things and samples scramble as songs cut out suddenly and new tracks begin. Listening to the album through headphones is like being trapped in a multilevel fantasy game. By the end, the naturalistic and nonthreatening aesthetics and sounds that welcomed you in have dissolved, and something ‘other’ exists. It isn’t the streets of LA, but it’s just as provocative and unpredictable. (Continues after Max Crumbs pic.)
Former Snowman frontman Joe McKee presents a reverse sonic narrative with his solo debut, Burning Boy (out through Dot Dash on May 25). The album comes surprisingly soon after Snowman’s final release, Absence, in June last year, though that was also around the time McKee’s solo demos started popping up online, suggesting this is no reactionary project. It certainly doesn’t come across as one: recorded with Perth’s Dave Parkin, who also worked with Snowman on their first two albums, it’s not a collection of songs strummed out by a man without a band, but an album that pulls imagery and artistry over its human form. David Bowie is lurking in the shadows here, but those shadows are heavy and hide many things, including most of McKee’s face on the painted cover image. If Kohane’s photos are part of his enticement via the everyday, then McKee’s album artwork tells us we’ve landed somewhere strange from the outset.
In keeping with that approach, Burning Boy’s opening track, Lunar Sea, finds McKee starting in his breathy, lilting voice, “Am I losing time with reality/Or am I waking up from some lucid dream?” The moment is akin, both musically and metaphorically, to Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka rowing into the dark tunnels of the Chocolate Factory, eerily singing his lullaby – there’s an expectation that things are going to get a little bit fucked up. What McKee does from there, however, is create an album that is entirely human and incredibly touching, both despite and because of its theatricality. It’s a beautiful character McKee portrays with tales of a lonely boy wandering into manhood.
It might seem a stretch, but there’s even a point just two songs in that Burning Boy’s trajectory sounds to cross that of Maidenhair, travelling in the opposite direction. The title track’s slowly rising and falling guitar notes mirror the flute-like scale runs of Maidenhair’s second track, Return To The Fruity Village. It’s a meeting point above the ground, the earth coming or going; the fleeting moment before the mystical adventure or the heavy embrace of reality.